Cowboy capitalists: Winning by breaking the rules

The only way cowboy capitalists win is by breaking the rules. On an even playing field, abiding by the rules and regulations laid down by government, they can’t survive.

Cowboy capitalists are the corporate globalization wizards, pushing “free-market” fundamentalism, privatization of the public sphere, de-regulation, and freedom from taxation. Journalist Naomi Klein points out that globalization allowed multinational corporations freedom to pay workers a pittance, escape taxes and disregard regulations.

In fact, these so-called “liberators of world markets” can’t succeed unless they cut corners and break the rules of society. They’re not good corporate citizens. They have no loyalty to any community or nation. They have no commitment to improving the society whose citizens they employ and who are buying their products. They claim no responsibility to stakeholders, like employees or customers; they care only for continual growth and corporate wealth. The mega-corporations promote worker insecurity and passivity, the better to increase their profits.

Look, for example, at the Wall Street financiers, like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. They sell corrupt securities, make huge profits, pay their CEO’s enormous sums, while causing global recession. They go unpunished, having co-opted the Fed and law enforcement into being “partners.” Gaming the markets for bonuses and profits brings bankers big rewards.

Aramark runs state prisons for Michigan and Ohio. Their underpaid staff frequently cause trouble. This upsets the prisoners, forced to live in deteriorating conditions. This, in turn, leads to outbreaks of prison violence. Meanwhile, Aramark claims to seek a “collaborative environment” with state professionals. This covers their substandard procedures and allows them to make a handsome profit from providing public services.

Big oil companies are leaving freshwater lakes full of arsenic, mercury and carcinogenic hydrocarbons. These “tailings ponds” are a by-product of tar sands processing. They’re large, insecure and leaking into surface and sub-surface aquifers. But these companies are too busy making money to clean up their mess and preserve the environment.

The laissez-faire attitude of globalization has leached over into the public sector. Public employee pensions go underfunded, holding about 67 cents on the dollar owed to current and future retirees, because corporations won’t pay their taxes.

As I said, the only way these cowboy capitalists can succeed is by breaking the law, acting immorally, being lousy corporate citizens of the very nations and communities providing their labor and buying their stuff.

The question we face is: Can the cowboy capitalists be stopped in time?

There are two timelines relevant to this discussion. The first is the length of time it takes human beings to get angry and frustrated enough to take public action, changing the political and economic environment in which we live. The second is the length of time it will take climate change to turn into climate disaster.

Which of these timelines is shorter? If “We the People” can pull ourselves together enough to re-regulate the corporate sector and enforce the rule of law, while requiring good corporate citizenship, then the cowboys may be forced to dismount their horses.

If climate disaster overtakes us, then the wealthy and the corporations win. None of the rest of us will have the resources (financial or otherwise) to survive. Those who have been hoarding resources for the past half century will easily afford the infrastructure necessary for survival.

What can you do, as an individual to throw off the cowboys? Five easy steps that hit ‘em where it hurts: 1. Protest cowboy capitalism at every opportunity. 2. Ignore all advertising. 3. Buy nothing on impulse. 4. Buy only what you absolutely need. 5. Save or invest every dollar you can. 6. Develop a healthy dislike of impatience for immediate reward 7. Cultivate feelings of gratitude for what you have and who you are.


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